Chelsea get double the yellows for fouls that Man City get.  But only commit 27% more fouls.



By Tony Attwood

In previous seasons we regularly ran an analysis of how clubs varied in terms of the tackles, fouls and yellow cards they got, and rather interesting those figures were too.

For in doing this we discovered among other things a most curious set of figures which showed that Leicester put in 112 more tackles than Arsenal that season, but committed three fewer fouls, and got 45 yellow cards fewer than Arsenal.  It was the “Leicester event” – as no other club had figures like this.  We made quite a fuss, and remarkably almost immediately the Leicester figures started to change as referees seemed to become aware that the club was getting away with tackles that no other club was able to.

As the refs tightened up and brought Leicester into line, so Leicester City slipped down the league.  (A similar event was discovered later in which Vardy started to win penalties which had it continued all season would have given Leicester a record number of penalties in one season.   We publicised that too – and curiously the penalties then also stopped just as the lack of cards had changed before.  But it was all probably just a coincidence and due to other factors as the Leicester fans at the time told us – although their specific explanations were shown to be wrong).

Since then we have taken a particular interest in tackles, fouls and yellow cards and considered the historic context.   In 2015/16 the average number of yellow cards per game was 3.12.   By 2019/20 it was 3.37.  This season after 100 games that figure is now 4.61 per game.   A leap of over a third since 2019/20!   And that is just yellows for fouls, excluding yellows for other reasons.

We’ve continued with this analysis until this season when suddenly, the way yellow cards were dished out by referees changed. 

Last season for example the number of yellow cards per club ranged from 44 (Manchester City) to 84 (Nottingham Forest and Wolverhampton).  That’s from 1.15 per match to 2.21 per match.

This season after 10 games the range is from 15 (1.5 per match for Arsenal and Everton) to exactly double that at 30 (3 per match) for Tottenham and Chelsea.  That is a jump from one season to the next of 30% for the lowest-carded clubs and a jump of 36% for the highest-carded clubs.  An enormous change in one year!

However many more of the yellow cards being awarded this season are no longer to do with fouling, whereas in past seasons almost every yellow card was for a fouling offence.   And so it was immediately clear to us, that if we were to continue our analysis of tackles, fouls and yellow cards as a unified set of data, we needed to find a source of data that gave us cards for fouls separated from cards for other reasons.   

We finally found it (courtesy of WhoScored) but then I stupidly misunderstood the data as WhoScored presented some figures such as tackles as “per game,” while other data  (such as yellow cards) was “for the season thus far.”   Worse, a very patient correspondent had to point this out to me at least twice before I tumbled what was going on.  My fault totally.

Although I can’t see why Who Scored do it.  Why not have “per game” throughout?   The only reason we can think of is because it makes the difference between the ways different clubs are treated by referees much less obvious.   There is an example of this here  where “shots” is per game but “discipline” is for “the season so far”.

So, I feel very silly, but let’s start again, because this data is pretty interesting.

First, the basic figures show that Tottenham are tackling 43% more than Manchester City, and producing 42% more fouls than Manchester City – and that sounds about right.  But even though we are only counting yellow cards for fouls (and not for anything else, like time wasting), Tottenham are getting 122% more yellow cards than Manchester City.   Here’s the table.  Notice each column is PG (per game)!!!


Team Tackles pg Fouls pg Yellow for fouls PG
Tottenham Hotspur 19.9 11.3 1.6
Arsenal 16.8 9.9 1.1
Manchester United 16.5 10.2 1.3
Liverpool 16.3 11.7 1.0
Chelsea 16.1 10.7 2.0
Newcastle United 14.7 11.9 1.4
Manchester City 13.9 8.4 0.9
Variation 43% 42% 122%


Now the thing to notice is that there is a very close linkage between tackles and fouls, in that the club undertaking the most tackles out of our selected seven clubs is tackling 43% more than the club tackling the least.  And the club with the most fouls is fouling 42% more than the club fouling the least.  All very reasonable.

But this relationship breaks apart with yellow cards for fouls.   The difference between the number of yellow cards for the least carded club (Manchester City) and the most (Chelsea) is 122%.   

Chelsea are picking up more than double the number of yellows for fouls that Manchester City are getting.  But they are only committing 27% more fouls.


The adventure continues in the next article.

6 Replies to “Chelsea get double the yellows for fouls that Man City get.  But only commit 27% more fouls.”

  1. Was it ever considered that some teams are better at tackling? Has anyone looked at the quality of tackling and compared it against the quantity of tackling?

  2. Tony,

    if I remember right, Arteta had brought down the number of tacles past seasons, did he not ?
    So now it has changed or did other teams lower their number of tacles as well ?

  3. Yes Chris; when Arteta joined, Arsenal were the most yellow carded club and he took us down by cutting the tackling going down from 15.4 per games to 12 per game in his first full season. Then, as you’ll recall, he transformed the defence, bringing in players who could tackle without getting cards. Last season we were in second place for tackling on 14.9 tackles per game and that was achieved while keeping the yellow cards down 52. Now with these players who can tackle, without getting carded all the time, the tackles are rising again. This season thus far it is 16.8 per game, but the number of fouls is 9.8. So what he has done is brought in players who can tackle without having a foul given against them all the time.

  4. As the aforementioned “patient correspondent”, I must say that it is admirable that you have publicly admitted your earlier error. However, for anyone who is perhaps new to the site or an occasional visitor, I cannot emphasise enough how tenacious Tony and the team are in their work and they should be admired for their tireless dedication to doing the valuable work that nobody else cares to do.

    I have followed UA for more years than I care to remember and, despite the odd mistake by a small team with very limited resources, its attention to detail and desire to support opinion with evidence and publicise the failures of the game is something from which the media and football authorities could dramatically learn……although my personal theory is that both those bodies know exactly what is going on which is exactly why they choose not to make it known publicly. Hats off to Tony for having the guts and tenacity do this on our behalf.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *